Saturday, September 8, 2012

Around since 1947, Dallas lumberyard Craddock's and its 94 year-old owner are ... - Dallas Morning News

Sometimes in the middle of progress is a reminder of where it all began. On Harry Hines Boulevard near Inwood Road, I drive by and grin about a certain persevering red Cape Cod-style cottage that sits across the street from the towering Parkland Memorial Hospital’s large campus.

Dan Murchison Craddock Jr. erected what he calls this Williamsburg-style building with a pitched roof, three dormers, multiple paned windows and lovely clapboard siding in 1947. The city later grew up all around this Dallas lumberyard.

“We have enjoyed having this unique mercantile building,” Craddock says. “My wife was the person who loved Williamsburg styles. She loved Virginia.”

Craddock, 94, is originally from the Oak Lawn and Highland Park area of Dallas.

“My father became ill, and I had to leave college earlier, but I got a couple of good years in at the University of Texas in Austin,” he said.

In his office, mammoth antique desks hold several accounting ledgers and a calculator.

“My desk is just about scratched to pieces,” he says.

I told him that the wear is considered cool now.

Looking sharp in his blue-and-white striped short-sleeve shirt and slacks, I noticed his desk faces son-in-law Marcello Guercini’s desk.

“So, the desks face one another for good workplace debates?” I chide.

“And on occasion, we have those,” Craddock says with a loaded smile. He says he comes to work once or twice every week for four hours to crunch numbers.

I ask Guercini facetiously if he’s ever busted when his father-in-law finds a discrepancy. He and Craddock break out into laughter.

“All of the time,” says Guercini, 66.

Craddock is proud that he built something that many family members continue to enjoy building, too.

“The best thing that ever happened to Craddock’s Lumber Co. is right here,” Craddock says, pointing to his son-in-law. Guercini, originally from Florence, Italy, married Craddock’s youngest daughter, Ellen. They met while she was studying abroad.

Guercini learned the business from the ground up, and more than 30 years later is president of Craddock’s.

“And CFO,” Craddock interjects. “Marcello is a genius about wrapping customers around his finger.”

A sense of community

Craddock talked about other lumber companies that helped to build Dallas, like Lingo Lumber Co. and the legendary lumberyard on the corner of Greenville and Yale Boulevard (now SMU Boulevard) called Williford Lumber in the 1940s. The Shamburger family bought it in the 1970s.

“I worked there, and I worked for other lumberyards 2½ years before we kicked this one off in 1947,” Craddock says.

When Shamburger’s closed, Craddock’s hired some of the former employees. When I opened the large antique door to Craddock’s, there stood Shamburger’s memorable lumberyard worker Frank Billard. Craddock’s recruited Billard and others after Shamburger’s closed. Billard, a veteran in the local retro-lumberyard arena, caught me up on who went where and who had passed away. These people in our community make Dallas feel smaller, in a very good way.

I never thought I’d see Billard in an old-school lumberyard again, with the insurgence of home improvement big-box stores. But there he stood, with others like Herbert Murphy and Edward Wright, to name a few, who were still in the hometown lumber industry now stationed at Craddock’s.

94 years and counting

With all of the big-box stores, how is Craddock’s staying bolted in tight when many other Dallas lumberyards have closed?

Craddock and Guercini spoke to the unwavering customer service and support that big-box stores often downsize. They also point to their ability to offer unique and hard-to-find products from an array of vendors under one high-pitched roof. Everything can be delivered right away. Many job sites at tight inner-city locations can’t store lumber, so the ability to order what is needed each day and have it hauled to the work site is helpful to construction customers.

Customers seem to be first. Craddock’s wouldn’t even let Hollywood producers shut the lumberyard down for one week of filming for the 1980s movie Target, with Gene Hackman and Matt Dillon, because customers would be inconvenienced.

Craddock has advice for those who are just starting to build their lives. I was hanging on every valuable word as he told me: “I can think of only that it takes perseverance and trying to set some sort of goals and trying to achieve them. You put your trust in those that are honorable and trustworthy.”

Simple but extremely effective.

Life beyond lumber

I have to admit that I felt as if I were visiting with lumberyard royalty as Craddock told me about his life. I felt fortunate to meet him. He is eloquent and as sharp as the nails in old bins nearby.

He told me that his wife, Arabella Wofford Craddock, died one year ago.

“We had 691/2 years together,” he says, leaning into me a little with a softer voice.

“We had five children, 10 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.”

I’m impressed with his quick stats recall. I have trouble remembering my cellphone number, and Craddock doesn’t miss a date or digit.

I thought that this man built much more than a persevering Dallas business. He built a beautiful life with a strong, solid foundation that proves today to be long-lasting.

Clare Miers is a Dallas freelance writer.

In business

Craddock Lumber Co., 5422 Harry Hines Blvd., Dallas.

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